Morocco: In the vanguard of Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination drive

How is Morocco preparing to launch its vaccination campaign, the first of its kind in Africa against the coronavirus?By Hicham…

How is Morocco preparing to launch its vaccination campaign, the first of its kind in Africa against the coronavirus?By Hicham Alaoui

The kingdom is one of the first countries in the world to have adopted a major response to the new coronavirus or Covid-19. When the virus emerged from China, it started to spread across the world, causing one of the biggest pandemics in history, Rabat had worked hard.

It took a series of measures namely closing borders, markets, mosques, cafes, hammams, cinemas, stadia, public gardens, total requisition of the pharmaceutical industry, general mobilization of medical personnel and security forces, curfews, strict limitation of people’s movements, etc.

The price paid has been heavy, especially in financial and economic terms. 

But the kingdom quickly brought the epidemic under control and contained its spread, a strategy that has earned Morocco a sterling reputation as one of the best examples in the world in the management of the disease.

Even at the height of the unlocking of the population that began last June, the disease remained under control in the country. For a population of nearly 40 million, only around 435,000 cases have been recorded to date and only around 7,300 deaths. 

For an African country adjacent to Europe, a major hotbed of the disease, this is no small feat.

As a second wave of the epidemic currently sweeps the world, the Moroccan kingdom is preparing to launch a massive vaccination campaign, making the country one of the first in the world and the first in Africa to do so.

Read also: Why does Africa still wait for Covid vaccines?

It was the king himself who broke the news a little over a month ago. 

It was on November 9 when, in a speech to the nation, the monarch had mentioned the imminent launch of a “massive vaccination exercise.”

To obtain the vaccine, Morocco turned to China. 

On August 20, a cooperation agreement between the health authorities in Rabat and the Chinese laboratory Sinopharm was concluded. 

A first, part of this agreement provides for Morocco to participate in phase III clinical trials of the Sinopharm vaccine, which is the last step before possible approval. 

In return, and if the results are conclusive, the country will have priority access to receive ten million doses of this vaccine, before the end of the year. 

Almost 600 Moroccan volunteers participated in phase III of the trials.

The agreement also provides for the presence of Sinopharm in Morocco, with in addition to clinical trials, a transfer of technology and expertise. 

A production unit should be located in the Mohammed-VI Tangier Tech City, in the north of the country. 

At the same time, Morocco has signed another agreement with the British laboratory AstraZeneca to procure millions of doses of its vaccine against Covid-19.

Where are we at today? 

While no launch date has yet been announced by authorities, the process is well underway. The government has announced that it has ordered 65 million doses of Chinese Sinopharm and UK AstraZeneca vaccines. Each requires two doses per person, which is enough to target a total of 25 million people.

In a statement, the Moroccan Minister of Health, Khalid Ait Taleb said that “preparations have reached very advanced stages. Field exercises covering all stages of the process of vaccinating citizens have been put in place.”

In close collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, a vaccination strategy at “national, regional and local” levels has already been established. 

In terms of human resources, public health professionals will be supported, if necessary, by teams from other sectors (military, private, Red Crescent). 

A computer system has been developed to ensure the proper management of the vaccination campaign, such as the delivery of vaccines, the management of the campaign in the field and the monitoring of possible side effects.

All health centers concerned and mobile units mobilized are equipped with tablets to record all the necessary information that will be used, not only during the vaccination exercise, but also for post-vaccination.

The devices deployed

The chosen vaccination method is a national campaign, which aims to cover the entire target population in a three-month period. 

The campaign will last 12 weeks at a rate of 6 per week. It will be done in four main periods of 21 days each (chosen vaccination schedule: 2 doses 21 days apart).

Each period is dedicated to a group defined with a view to controlling the flow, with a rate of 150 and 200 vaccination procedures per vaccinator and per day.

No less than 25,631 medical staff will be mobilized for this purpose, with the possibility of calling on private doctors, medical students, the Red Crescent, etc.

The first phase will concern the health personnel, law enforcement and national education personnel, while the second phase will concern the rest of the population.

For this campaign, Morocco will mobilize 27,000 cubic meters of freezers and deploy 14 refrigerated trucks. 

The authorities will also be able to call upon distributors of pharmaceutical products in the various regions. 

Vaccination will be free and not compulsory.

The Ministry of Health wants to be optimistic and cautious at the same time. 

To date, no precise date for the start of the vaccination campaign has been set for reasons, which “simply relate to the validation of vaccines and the delivery schedule of pharmaceutical producers,” the government explains, indicating however that it could be launched soon.

A platform for Africa

Thanks to the technology transfer agreed with partner manufacturers, which will allow it to be able to manufacture the vaccines itself, Morocco wishes to make them available to the rest of Africa. 

This willingness to play the role of a vaccine production platform for Africa was also announced by the Minister of Health himself. 

“Morocco aims to achieve self-sufficiency in the production of all types of vaccines and to ensure the supply of sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb,” the minister said recently.

In an interview with Russian news agency Sputnik, the minister stressed that the kingdom aims to become a producer of all kinds of vaccines with a high-tech vaccine production platform in the Mohammed VI technological city of Tangiers. 

This factory will allow the development of vaccines “Made in Morocco” and ensure the self-sufficiency of the country, while supplying the African continent and neighboring Maghreb countries, he added.

“These projects are going to take a few months to materialize, but it may be that by the end of next year, we will already have started producing our own vaccines,” he concluded.